Modern businesses need to do more than just provide customers with a way to provide feedback, they need to drive their customers to engage in a conversation about their product.

In March 2012, Apple announced the 25 billionth download from their App Store, giving away a cool US$ 10,000 iTunes gift card. Apple reported approximately US$ 5.7 billion revenue on those 25 billion downloads, so it is easy to do the math: the mobile app landscape is dominated by free and low-cost downloads. Mobile App analytics firm App Annie reports that the average revenue per download for iOS games in the US is just 67 cents.

Changing Dynamics

For mobile apps, having such a low price point changes the purchase dynamic. Users are skeptical of apps that charge too much up front, which has given rise to “freemium” services and in-app purchases. These sort of models lower the threshold for downloads, making it easier for customers to try before they buy. And while there are avenues to request refunds, many consumers may find it is not worth the hassle to get their US$ .99 back. Instead, they might just write a spiteful review and give the app a low rating.

This creates quite a predicament for mobile app developers, who have no way to reach out to the users behind those arbitrary star ratings and three-word reviews like, “this doesn’t work.” How can they intervene with a user who sees no other avenue for venting frustration than a one-star rating and a spiteful review?

Consider also that we are rapidly entering a world where, for many young people, talking to people is not the primary use of their phone. Even if they reach out for customer service, they might prefer Twitter or Facebook to calling in or sending email. Yet they expect all of those options to be available.

Built-In Customer Service

To succeed in the mobile app marketplace, businesses need the half-inch square icon on a customer’s mobile device to stand for a great customer experience. Which means, in part, exceeding expectations around service and support. Move beyond the baseline of Facebook, Twitter, phone and email to create a positive customer experience, even when an app fails.

Learning Opportunities

  • Give customers the ability to express themselves from inside the app they are using. Create a seamless customer service experience.
  • Use an in-app feedback mechanism to leverage contextual information and create a personalized customer service experience. Help your customer service agents understand who the customer is, their usage history and usage preferences.
  • Aggregate usage and personalization data from your app for a data-driven customer service experience. Analytics can help developers understand how users interact with an app, and assist with debugging.

When an app provides ways to reach out for service and support, it can deflect some of those bad ratings and spiteful reviews. It can also help you identify potential advocates who love your app, but aren’t necessarily thinking, “I need to go write a review.”

Research into consumer behavior in app stores suggests that the number of reviews matter: more reviews encourage more sales. And analysis from NYU and the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that reviews and ratings are of particular value for the types of things that are difficult for consumers to evaluate prior to purchase: books, movies and apps. The higher your rating, the more likely you are to pique the interest of potential customers.

Customer service strategies can be slow to evolve. A company that pays attention to app store feedback and reviews is one step down the path. But simply listening is not the same thing as engaging. That requires being open to feedback and responding.

Modern businesses that drive their customers to engage in a conversation about their product will have a competitive advantage. Techniques like in-app feedback and usage analytics will yield better ratings and more positive reviews, which in turn can result in more sales, and engaged customers who love your product and who want to talk about it.